Sunday, December 18, 2011

This Very Small Amount of Internet Fame Will Go Straight to My Head

In the past few days I've had almost four hundred hits. Four hundred! That's how much I get in a typical month, and what makes it a little frustrating is that I can't figure out where you people get here from. The keywords are not helping, the referral sites are the same ones that always refer my site (and the numbers there look the same), and the pages "hit" are a motley collection of bikey posts, writing posts, and posts way the hell from last year. So if you're on this site for the first time, my question to you is: why?

So I might as well take advantage of my sudden Internet fame to update you with some important life news:

  • I got a new job! My last job, as I think I might have mentioned here at some point (or maybe it was on Dreamwidth), was at this deli, and while it definitely gave me fodder for a potential writing project, it wasn't the job for me. Even "in this economy." I'm not going to say anything specific about the new job because hi, separating Internet life from work life is always a solid plan but it's the best job I've had since 2007. Looking forward to staying the course, racking up experience points, and learning much more about the profession I work in.
  • I've been re-reading a lot of my favorite books this month, because that always gets me more into the groove of writing my own stuff. First I re-read Amnesia Moon by Jonathan Lethem, which might be the book I've read more often than any other. Now I'm onto the Light/Nova Swing duology by M. John Harrison, which was groundbreaking when I first read it (I still hadn't read all that much SF by that point despite writing it... the fact that I only got into SF as an adult and how that's influenced my reading/writing/thoughts about "fandom" should really be its own blog post at some point) and is still amazing now. Up next: probably some Philip K. Dick, since I'm getting the Exegesis for Giftmas and I want to get in the mood.
  • Sparkle Season isn't annoying me this year as much as it has in the past. I still don't like the semi-compulsory participation in a holiday I have no religious connection to, I still really don't like giving or receiving presents, but this season I've managed to be more Andy Rooney than Lewis Black about the whole thing.
  • My new work commute is over twice as long as my old commute, which would make most people groan but not me, because I'm insane. Or a bike commuter, same difference really. Maybe I'll write about it on the bikey blog but I update there even less frequently than here. I'm learning how to ride safely with one earbud in which makes the commute all the more sweet. (And will hopefully get me back into music. I've only listened to ONE album released this year, I used to care so much more about new music. Of course, I am also 30, and I gather that one's enjoyment of new music tends to wither after you hit your third decade.)
  • Working on stories, same old, same old. The revised story I thought about self-publishing as a social experiment is actually turning out to be good, so I may attempt to publish it for real after all. I've come to the conclusion that blogging about writing is sort of boring because it's pretty much a one-woman enterprise and anything that isn't "hey I finished something" or "hey I published something" (and dudes I totally did publish something this year) is frankly kind of dull, don't you think? Being a short story writer and zinester, I hit this "finishing point" more often than novelists but still, it's not climbing Everest, exactly. Maybe taking "action shots" of my netbook in various exotic locations will help, it certainly works for bike bloggers.

And... that's it! Bye for now, my hundreds upon hundreds of mystery readers.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ain't No Post Like a New Short Story Post

As alluded to previously, I have a new short story in this season's issue of Ideomancer. Here's a taste:

Silently, they pass around the alien.
The meetings are held at the Eridani Colony Community Center. Shoved aside are the ping-pong tables (unused) and the motivational standees. A two-dimensional young girl in a hard-hat grins at the workers, tells them they’re doing an excellent job. The plastic chairs are set up in a circle, like they were during the “Imagining a Better World through Guided Visualization” group discussions (discontinued). The leader for the week, a man with a plastic name tag that informs Dennis his name is ROY, opens the box.
Sometimes it stings you. Sometimes it releases a cloud of gas that will choke you, but it’s not poison. Most of the time, the alien doesn’t do anything.

If this sounds like the sort of depressing folk religion-themed short fiction you enjoy, then take a look! This is the first short story I've published since starting to write fiction again, and I must say it feels awfully good to be back, folks. I'm hoping that this is just the first of more stories to come. (The story of how I stopped writing and started again will probably be written into a zine at some point, and I already know some sort of Dr. Strangelove reference will be used for the subtitle.)

P.S. Thanks to Samantha Kymmell-HarveyKelly Szpara, and the rest of the CLRC for their help with this story. I couldn't have done it without you. You're the wind beneath my wings.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Self-Publishing for Sandwiches

I have kind of a jaundiced view of self-publishing. Okay, so I basically think it's a bad idea. Nick Mamatas outlines most of my reasoning here and also here, so no need to go into it much further except to say that in my opinion, self-publishing fails on both ends. As a reader, I can see no reason to wade through a slush pile of potentially amateurish writing in order to find the diamond in the rough. As a writer, I can see no reason to jump the gun on self-publishing my material, when said self-publication means that I will be responsible for 100% of my own marketing (shudder), and means that I'll also be on the hook for all of my own editing (i.e. paying an editor). Also, I don't have a Kindle, so talk about reading self-published e-books (which are really what we're talking about here, does anyone who's not related to the author really drop $24.99 on a self-published print trade paperback?) is mostly academic for me.

At this point some people might be thinking: hey, aren't you a zinester? Where do you get off talking smack about self-publishing when you do it yourself? Different formats mean different "marketing strategies" (shudder again), dudes. See also: self-published comics, non-fiction books with a narrow focus, etc. No problem with self-publishing those types of things. Yet, when it comes to self-published fiction, especially genre fiction, in my opinion the results are far more likely than not to be akin to Night Travels of the Elven Vampire.

A self-published classic.
But... but... what about Mark Twain?! You mean, the failed self-publishing efforts of Mark Twain? Besides, that was a different era, when self-publishing (or any publishing, or even the purchase of books themselves) was extremely inaccessible. It's still my contention that self-publishing fiction in the modern era, especially self-publishing speculative fiction in the modern era, as someone who is pretty much an unknown, is a sucker's game. Amanda Hocking is the exception that proves the rule, and even she is going the traditional publishing route now. Which she presumably wouldn't be, if self-publishing didn't have some serious problems.

Basically, I think self-publishing has far more drawbacks than advantages and is almost always a bad idea for new fiction writers! I am, however, willing to try even dumb things at least once.

So, here's the deal: I have a short story that was previously published (back in 2005... ancient history!) in a tiny Pittsburgh SF print anthology. As it's been "vetted," it probably isn't total crap so I feel okay with it being out there on the Internets. I'm going to put it up on Kindle for 99 centibones, see how it flies, and then and only then may I revise my opinion of self-publishing from "total waste of time" to "well, it bought me this sandwich, I guess it's not all that bad." If you want to buy it, that would be awesome! If you don't want to, or are so offended by my thoughts on self-publishing that you wouldn't even if you wanted to, then that's cool too. It will be available as soon as I figure out how to put one's writing up on Kindle, which means anywhere from one day from now to several months from now. It appears that I'll make around thirty cents per download, so that means that only ten of you need to download it to buy me a sandwich, around twenty if you want to buy me a really awesome sandwich. And I'll of course be documenting the process of Kindleizing my work and the outcome of the experiment on this blog. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Back in the Blogosphere, Baby

Ever since splitting off my bicycle advocacy writing to a new blog, I haven't been writing much here. Most of this silence is because I got a new job, which has been great for my fiction writing (for a number of seemingly contradictory time-management reasons I'll probably go into later at some point), less so for my social networking and "blogs." Tis no great loss, though.

In spaaaaace!!!
But! News abounds! I'm getting another short story published. This is the first short story I've sold since starting to write fiction again, and it's a new story too, not a trunk story (I don't have much of a "trunk"). I won't go into the details of the story, but think "snake handlers in space" and you won't be too far off. It's getting published in Ideomancer, which has published two other pieces by me and is an awesome magazine despite that. Look for it to drop in December, potentially.

I also went to a Nanowrimo (why did I include that link like everyone hasn't heard of Nanowrimo?) gathering last night and it was fun, although slightly deceptive since neither I, nor any of the members of my writing group, are participating. I've finished two Nanowrimii, in 2002 and 2003, and the outcome of both of those novels has sort of taken the shine out of the concept for me. The first novel, I didn't do anything with, and don't think I even have a file of it anymore. I remember it was post-apocalyptic, but that's it. The second one became my thesis novel, and basically the entire thing was scrapped and rewritten (and I'm not really fond of it anymore either, now). I got entirely no usable writing out of either one of those excursions.

And this would be okay, if not for the fact that I can't abide having writing that doesn't "count." In college, I struggled a ton with writing exercises, and sometimes wouldn't even turn them in because I found them so, so difficult. Things like character sketches, constrained writing, etc., would all have to be bent into the service of a story suitable for potential publication, and this was true even before I attempted to publish anything. I guess this is probably because I don't think of the act of writing itself as fun. (Another blog post for another time!)

So, good luck on your Nanowrimo novels, everyone who's doing it! But this year, as with the last seven, I will be bowing out.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Different Blog News, Same Blog Channel

So I've decided to start a bicycle blog. What, you mean this isn't already one? Well, it's sort of turned out that way, but originally I just planned to have this be a blog about my writing, my zines, general life updates, and the occasional poorly rendered MS Paint comic. However, my new-found love of transportation cycling has gradually taken over this blog until I feel like that's all I talk about here! And then, I feel like that's all I CAN talk about here, because blogs are supposed to be about one topic and I feel like I would be boring my, uh, "fanbase" if I talk about things other than bikes.

But I still want to blog about bicycle stuff! Hence, splitting the blog in twain, and since it makes a lot more sense to keep the zine/writing stuff under my zine's title, and give the bikey blog a bikey title, so it is written that Speeding Pedalcycle is where you want to go from now on to read my bikey updates. Of course, you can still read both blogs! But I feel like splitting in two will "maximize my search engine potential" and "expose my readership to startling new ideas" and "synergy." Really, it's just so I can customize my blog headers to hell and back without feeling like I have to cram too much in there. Even though I know that everyone only reads on RSS feeders now, I still feel the need to tinker with my damn layout every two weeks.

Look for content on Speeding Pedalcycle pretty soon. Maybe even today! I want to update at least twice a week, maybe three times. I have a bad tendency to forget about blogging for weeks at a time, but I think if I set a goal to update on certain days, it will get done. And I'll still be updating here, although probably not as often, because as I've mentioned my writing process is highly idiosyncratic and doesn't make for good blogging. But still, probably once a week or so, or whenever I have a project I'm really excited about (which, right now, I do!).

It worked for Netflix, and by gum, it will work for me.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Reality Doesn't Have to Suck: That GM Ad

There was some predictable outcry over the above General Motors ad a few days ago. Basically, the ad is terrible and so is GM (for a much bigger reason than this). But, IDK, I can't get as fired up about this as others.

I think my take on it was a little skewed compared to the rest of the bikeysphere. The "Reality Sucks" line struck me at hopelessly nihilistic, and definitely connected to the car (as it's a car ad) instead of the bike. As Rob likes to tell me when I go on about hating cars and driving, driving is a reality, and it's not going away, and yes, for most people it does suck. Yet, why a company would want the term "sucks" to come anywhere near their product baffles me. Fast food is often a necessity in our modern lives, but would you see Burger King running a commercial where a family is sitting down to a nice home-cooked meal, and then there's a cutaway to a dad rushing home with a bag of Whoppers? "Reality sucks, stop cooking, eat BK." No, because it's insane to compare your product to a slower, yet far more fulfilling alternative. Likewise, cars are a tool, ones that are often a necessity in our modern lives, but being reminded of this "reality"... does not strike me as the best way to go. If anything, it might cause someone to think "Hey, yeah, driving DOES suck! Wait, you can ride a bike to work, like it's a car? Does that suck as much as driving does?" Putting your competitor's product in your ad is a risky venture, and should only be done if you're absolutely certain your product is superior. It isn't at all clear that driving in areas that allow for transportation cycling is superior (in fact, proving that it's inferior is sort of the point of bicycle advocacy, right?), so really, the main thing I take away from this is GM is a self-hating corporation which is secretly engineering its own downfall.

The pictures further fuel this interpretaton. For one thing, the cyclist is attractive! He's not really my own type, but he's definitely got that generic advertising-model look going on. And while he's not smiling, he also doesn't have a doomed expression on his face saying "oh, man, I wish I had a truck right about now." He looks like he's concentrating, which I can understand, as my own face tends to scrunch up when I cycle, to the point that I look like I'm probably not enjoying myself very much. The girl in the picture, meanwhile, is smiling at him. Not sneering, or rolling her eyes, but genuinely smiling at him, even if she's WAY too close. Meanwhile, she's not watching the road. Does this mean GM customers are bad drivers?

So, really, my deconstruction of the ad would have to be: "The reality of our current transportation infrastructure is sub-par and often requires the use of a car, which we provide. However, there are alternatives, and these alternatives may not 'suck' as much as our product or others like it. Have we said 'suck' enough? Suck suck suck, our products suck." Awesome pitch for my side, GM! Here, have another bailout.

Of course, that's not what GM was going for by a long shot, I know that. I realize that my interpretation of this ad is influenced by my own hatred of cars (despite their "reality"). Still, I wonder just what they were going for. Nobody who currently has the privilege of being able to ride for transportation is going to "make the switch" after seeing this ad. I guess it makes GM truck owners feel a little better about themselves and their choice to carry around a 3000-pound steel cage. And of course, it got us all talking about GM, which is the ultimate goal of any and all advertising.

The below response ad by Giant is pretty awesome:

Basically, the fact that a major car company even deigns to "attack" transportation cycling means just one thing to me: they're scared and we're winning. Even ten years ago, you wouldn't have seen an ad like this, because cycling was so on the margins that this ad would have been a waste of GM's ad money. Call me an optimist, but I count this as a victory.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Wrong Kind of Smugness

Cycling community, I am disappoint.

Image credit: Peter Drew.

I'd seen the above image once or twice online, but I hadn't really thought about the social implications of it until I read Lovely Bicycle's post on the "fit/fat" controversy as it relates to drivers vs. cyclists. (I also didn't know the graffiti was as widespread as it apparently is.)

Look, people, I'm not against smugness. Lord knows, I take great pride in my tiny carbon footprint, even as I consume my roughly ten pounds of meat per day and take care of my three cats, whose combined non-biodegradable "leavings" for 2011 could probably build a structure the size of Angkor Wat. Yes, I have even been known to wear a T-shirt proclaiming my transportation method's lack of fossil fuel use for all to see. But something about trumpeting your smugness over weight and/or fitness just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

To state the most obvious problem with signs like this, not all drivers are fat and not all cyclists are fit. Some of those drivers are dedicated gym rats, and some of those cyclists (like me!) don't partake in any exercise other than transportation cycling. Some drivers are vegan raw-foodists who carefully analyze every calorie that comes into their body, some cyclists (me again!) would subsist on a diet entirely composed of candy necklaces and peanut butter if their spouses would let them. And I see a lot of cyclists (when you are one, you pay attention), and aside from the spandexed athletes, cyclists come in all colors, genders, and yes, sizes. True, you don't see many 300+ pound people on bikes, but that's likely more of a structural issue with the bikes themselves.

To state the second most obvious problem, cycling isn't great exercise. Oh, it's better than sitting in a car, of course. Most activities are. But compared to other sports like swimming and running, and especially when you consider the reduced speeds and mileage of transportation cycling vs. sport cycling, there's just no comparison. According to Dave's Bike Blog (which cites a bunch of science-y folks), "riding a bicycle 20 miles at an average 15 miles per hour is equal to running 5.6 miles at any speed." Considering that most commuters/everyday riders don't clock nearly 20 miles per trip, and also ride somewhere around 8-10 mph, it becomes clear that transportation cycling is only a marginally more effective exercise than working a slot machine. At least that will tone your arms.

At 10 MPH, I don't even burn off the bugs I swallow whilst riding.

I even think these measurements are too generous to cycling, because they don't factor in coasting, which you don't do in a paceline or athletic event but which takes up at least a quarter of your time when everyday cycling on a non-fixed-gear bike. Nothing feels as good as coasting down a gentle hill, it's the closest thing to human flight that isn't hang-gliding (and far more accessible), but calories burned? Somewhere between zero and one, I reckon, and less than that if you're eating a candy necklace while you coast.

Think about it: The bicycle was invented because people were too lazy/impatient to walk everywhere and horses are a PITA. (Also, they have an annoying tendency to die off during global cataclysms.) The same impulse to save time and energy underlie the choices of both transportation bicyclists and SUV drivers, and while I can rail against the driver for contributing to global warming and suburban sprawl and the death of untold millions, I can't rightly claim to be less lazy than him or her. Let whosoever among us is the least lazy cast the first stone, and man, casting stones is work. As is finding parking spaces, which is something that I almost never have to worry about. (See, it's perfectly possible to be smug over things besides weight!)

Image credit: Peter Drew.
To state yet another obvious problem, signs like these further prop up the falsehood that fatness is always unfit, and that thinness is always healthy. Anyone who's struggled with an eating disorder knows that the latter is definitely untrue, and there's quite a bit of anecdotal evidence on the Lovely Bicycle post re: larger, fit commuters that invalidates the former. I'm not too keen on the martyr-type attitude that often comes with fitness advocates, anyway. You see it in Cathy-level jokes about foregoing dessert or boasting about how many hours you've plugged away at the gym, with no hints that fitness can be fun or fulfilling. What does "fitness" mean, anyway? Wikipedia (always a trusted source!) defines physical fitness as "a measure of the body’s ability to function efficiently and effectively in work and leisure activities, to be healthy, to resist hypokinetic diseases, and to meet emergency situations." Nothing about this definition relates to weight specifically, and it's not a state that requires intense training (or dessert skipping) to achieve. Personally, I would like to see the concept of "fitness" dumped, to be replaced with a more holistic view of physical activity that doesn't require setting aside time for exercise. For 95% of people, daily transportation cycling or walking combined with smaller activities like climbing stairs instead of taking elevators is all you need to achieve a level of fitness that is perfectly adequate for any of your needs. Anything else is just gravy.

In closing, you have the right to feel smug over the person who drives a mile to the gym. But not because you're fitter than them, because you might not be, and it doesn't matter anyway! There are so many reasons to champion bikes for short-haul urban transportation, ones that don't require shaming a large (no pun intended) segment of Americans who are likely going to be put off by your exclusionary slogans.

Friday, September 30, 2011


Hey, so, I've read some interesting stuff in the bikeosphere this week, so how about I let other people do my work for me and just link to them? /lazy

First off, if you like bikes and you like comics and you like humor, you need to put Another Bike on your RSS feed, like, yesterday. Even if you only like one or two of those things, still read it. How can you not love a girl who treats her new bike to a bath by candlelight?

Credit to Lulu @ Another Bike

Second, Sam at Brown Girl in the Lane perfectly sums up how I often feel when I think about people I know taking preventable car trips (FYI, most car trips are preventable), and how hard it can be to support them in their decision:

When I see a friend is a car, I immediately think of studies I've read, about the toxins the very existence of car creates, about the number of lives lost....for no good reason.
It is at times like this I wish I could get a lobotomy and just put myself out of this misery. I wish I could just forget everything I've read, everything I've seen, and everything I've smelled and just be happy and enjoy the fact that I'm lucky to live in a world where so many people are privileged to have such an abundance of luxury. [....]
But I can't forget it, and I'm not being honest when I say that I can really, truly appreciate this gift.

Thirdical, a recent only-tangentially-related-to-bikes article at NY Times caught my eye: Keeping (Weaker) Eyes on the Road. Apparently, people seeking license renewal in New York will no longer have to take eye retests. I didn't know that any state required retests, so I did a little digging and found out that most states don't require a retest if you renew by mail (Maryland is one of the few exceptions, although you can have eyes as bad as 20/100 and still drive here with a doctor's note). I do sympathize with sucky-eyed folks who are in danger of losing their licenses, since I know first hand that not being able to drive and living somewhere that isn't transit or bike friendly is a major handicap when it comes to employment, social life, education... well, everything! It's incredibly isolating. However, that pain just doesn't compare to the thousands of people who die every year in car accidents, many of them caused by people who should not be driving. (P.S. I include myself in this. I don't believe my optometrist should have written me an exemption, because I don't believe there should be vision exemptions. I'm still planning on taking my driver's road test because I've put a lot of money into this thing, but I also think a truly safe driver vision policy would be one that excludes me and people whose eyes are even worse than mine. And I don't plan to actually drive.)

Finally, is bicycle commuting really catching on? Well, it depends on where you live, but I'm pleased:

Credit: The Atlantic Cities. Boo on you, Newark!

Who's that at the largest increase in the Northeast US? Why, it's my old hometown, Pittsburgh! And coming in at #2? You guessed it, Baltimore! As I've never ridden in any area other than Baltimore City and County, I don't know how our cycle facilities stack up against more world-class places like NYC or Boston. I do know, however, that in general I feel very, very safe riding in the city, and while I can imagine things being better (as can anyone who doesn't live in Amsterdam or Copenhagen), I'm ridiculously pleased with the amount of lanes and sharrows we have already. Also, 1% ride share seems kind of low, I'd say the ratio of bikes to cars is more like 1:20 or even 1:10 on the Avenue or around JHU. But if they're only counting people commuting to jobs, that changes things, I don't even commute to a job (because I don't yet have one).

Pittsburgh being at #1 is a surprise, because it's just so ridiculously hilly everywhere. You'd have to be pretty athletic already to tackle Pittsburgh as a transportation cyclist. I also don't remember many lanes, although I wasn't looking for them when I lived there. I'm going back in two weeks and I'll look for bike infrastructure then! I would definitely continue riding if I moved back to Pittsburgh, although I'd have to get a bike with more than seven speeds. More like thirty-seven.

The biggest increases, though, came from the Midwest, although the overall percentages there are pretty tiny, except for Minneapolis (which I gather is a lot like Portland, only with snow, so, worse than Portland). If you live in the Southeast or certain parts of the Southwest, sorry guys, better luck next time.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Attack of the 40-Foot Priusmonster

Yesterday afternoon as I was about to go out for my near-daily ride, I caught a commercial that didn't seem to be doing a very good job of telling we the audience what we're being sold. I quipped to Rob that "it's another hybrid car commercial" since earlier we had seen a puzzling hybrid car ad that involved a guy buying ice cream and getting dissed by a little kid. However, that's exactly what it turned out to be.

I don't need to explain why this is a terrible ad, although I will. First of all, holy nightmare fuel, Batman! Toyota's managed to come up with a monster even more terrifying than the Burger King, one which will subsume our own bodies into its lump of undifferentiated mass, only briefly allowing us to decouple so as to perform small tasks like squeezing toothpaste. You don't even know what product it's selling until most of the way through, by which point you're already so grossed out by this lurching golem that you probably don't even care. Yeah, car that plugs in, whatever. What happens when that thing goes to the bathroom?!

Also, this is the car they're selling:

They're on a family vacation in the formless void.
I mean, I'm sort of a car racist (they all look the same to me), but even I can see that this isn't exactly a "hot" car for "cool cats." It's practical, but that's about all it has going for it, and in a world where people depend on their consumer products to sell them not just a better product, but a better life, Prius just doesn't cut it.

Also, think for a second about the NAMES of hybrid cars. Prius. Volt. Yaris (car or birth control?). Fucking Leaf. With the possible exception of Volt, these don't sound like vehicles meant to tear up the pavement. They sound like some kid's science project. Maybe Europeans would buy a car called "Leaf," but 99% of Americans, Canadians, and Australians (i.e. the world's biggest per capita fuel hogs) will scoff at it and keep on looking for something that's cool. Like it or not, looks and names matter, and the majority of people from the individualist nations aren't going to buy something named after the photosynthesizing organ of a plant.


So, who are these ads meant to target? Certainly not the average American driver, who doesn't give a shit about fuel efficiency and is far more concerned about horsepower and carrying capacity. And not the true environmentalist or sustainable transportation buff, since they're already either riding bikes or taking public transportation as long as the location of their job allows it. (Newsflash: it's greener to buy a used car than a hybrid.*) And it's not meant for the cheap and/or poor, since hybrids are exponentially more expensive than standard cars, even used hybrids.

I can only think that they're targeting a very specific audience: upper-middle-class "environmentalists" who want the whole world to know how sustainable they are, but wouldn't be caught dead riding the bus because, well, ew. Essentially, the greenwashed. And that's a piss poor marketing strategy because outside of maybe Northern California, there just aren't that many people with the combination of tons of disposable income and the smug desire to do something to "help the planet" without doing something actually radical such as not driving.

I'm torn between wishing hybrid cars had a better marketing department and saying "well, at least if everyone keeps buying SUVs that will get rid of all that oil that much faster." I very much believe that the disconnectedness created by car culture is extremely damaging to society and that even if they could be made carbon-neutral (and that will never happen), cars are bad. It's not just about the carbon emissions or the smog they create or the fuel they waste, although that's a large part of it. So yeah, car companies, continue to mis-market your own product. It will just bring my car-free/lite utopia that much quicker.

But if I were writing ad copy for an electric hybrid car, it might go a little something like this:

Voiceover: "Hello, I'm Antonio Banderas."

He's got a little bit of a Tommy Wiseau thing going on here.

ANTONIO BANDERAS leaps into the driver's seat of a cherry-red electric hybrid convertible. On the seat next to him is a Zorro mask, a copy of Atlas Shrugged, and a taxidermied deer's head. He guns the engine, and with a mighty squeal the car--complete with fins and lighted rims--speeds down a canyon inexplicably studded with sexy nightclubs.

Antonio Banderas: "When I get out of the movie studio, I don't want to take time out of my busy schedule of ab crunches and photo ops to get gas every week, instead of every week and a half. That's why I drive the Chrysler Lightning. It'll really give you a charge." (Suggestive grin.)

ANTONIO BANDERAS pulls up to a red light. Next to him, in his own retro-styled hybrid car, is DON DRAPER.

Don Draper: "Remember, when you drive an electric car, you're really keeping a lot of emissions out of the air. That means you can smoke as much as you want." (Takes a puff.) "Ah, that's smooth."

Antonio Banderas: "My wife, MELANIE GRIFFITH, really likes the car too."

Don Draper: "Women can drive?"

They ride off into the sunset.

*When you consider the implications of the Jevons paradox, and that the mpg of a 2012 Prius is only around 42 highway/36 city (Rob's Hyundai gets 35 highway/25 city)... I'm not even convinced that a new fuel-efficient standard car is worse than a hybrid. I have personally experienced the truth of the Jevons paradox, as owning my bike (which certainly counts as an energy efficient vehicle compared to walking) makes me much more likely to leave the house and travel long distances for little or no reason at all ("hey, you need one thing from the store, well I guess I can go get it for you") that I never would have if I were on foot. Of course, the extra "emissions" generated by someone on a bike are tiny compared to the "emissions" I'd generate simply by sitting around at home expelling CO2 at a more leisurely rate. But if people are driving hybrids more just because they think they're greener--and there's no "if" about it--then hybrids may turn out to be more damaging to the environment than Hummers ever were. At least people know that Hummers are bad.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Room: The Play

Sunday was my 30th birthday. I'm not a big birthday person, and haven't been since the age of twelve (nothing is more tedious than adults who make a big fuckin' deal out of their birthday, just saying), and prefer not to do anything special for the day aside from going out (or calling in) for a nice meal. I am certainly not the kind of person who goes to the theatre for my birthday. But, as luck would have it, His Roomliness Sir Tommy Wiseau was appearing the day before at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD for a special live version of "The Room." No amount of emphatic typography can accurately capture the joy I felt at learning of this event.

For those not in the know, The Room is an epic saga of infidelity, betrayal, football, lies, and covert recording techniques, brought to you by the ambiguously European auteur Tommy Wiseau, who really did wear these pants:

Only $29.99 at Hot Topic!

I've seen The Room: The Movie about four times now, I think, which is four more times than any sane person, but I'm not a sane person. I'm a bad movie aficionado. And while I was basically expecting -- and would have been happy with -- a staged version of The Room, the play was way different, being more of a broad comedy (instead of a "quirky black comedy"... what T.W. called his masterpiece when people didn't appreciate its dramatic aspirations) with a fair amount of improv, caused by Tommy purposely throwing off the rest of the cast. He may not have been in on the joke before, but he is now.

There were also a number of changes to the cast and plot, although all the best scenes and lines are still there. Relatively minor character Scott was a main player, and was the main foil for the actor playing Denny (who did the best job in this aside from the Wiseauminator). A new character, Travis, added a musical flourish:

Yeah baby, open your hard to me.

In closing, go see this if you're a fan of The Room. Or even if you're not, what the hell. I gather that the Silver Spring theater puts on live showings every few months, although this was the first with The Tommy Himself. I'll miss his leather pants and surprisingly sculpted upper body when I see it next time, but he's so busy with publishing The Room: The Bookconverting his film to 3-D, and in general milking this puppy* for all it's worth. A full touring schedule would tear him apart.

(These pictures were taken by Rob, who has a way better cell phone camera than me.)

* Hi, doggie!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bloody-Minded Collectivist Cyclist (an Irene-delayed post)

Read an interesting article by British environmentalist George Monbiot, about how the car is turning England into a nation of antisocial bastards. First, I love that you can use the word "bastard" in the headline of an editorial over there. But more importantly, he makes a lot of good points, and gets in some well-deserved cracks in at Americans and Australians. The article's from 2005, but as cars still exist, I think it's relevant. A quote:

"When you drive, society becomes an obstacle. Pedestrians, bicycles, traffic calming, speed limits, the law: all become a nuisance to be wished away. The more you drive, the more bloody-minded and individualistic you become."

I can say without a doubt that this is true for me. I've logged around forty hours in a car since getting my permit in January, and while it hasn't turned me into a Tea Partier, I have noticed subtle shifts in both my mood and attitude during and after driving. My fuse is shorter, and considering that it's already pretty short, that's saying A LOT. Extrapolating from this, I come to the conclusion that if I had to spend two hours in a car five days a week, I'd basically become a fire-breathing dragon.

Get out of my way, I'm a motorist!

In a car, you basically can live in a pod if you want to, shuttling from home to work and back on an interstate where you won't have to see another living soul other than yourself and the shadowy beings ensconced in their own pods. Never before in human history has it been so easy not to associate with people you don't choose to associate with, and at the risk of being controversial, I think that's a bad thing. When you don't know that people other than you and your immediate family exist, when they're only hypotheticals, it's easy to say things like "schools (other than my kid's school) are over-funded" or "Social Security doesn't help me, why should I pay for it?" Because you have less real-world experience. And sure, a commute is only a small fraction of one's day, and maybe not everyone feels as I do. For all I know, everyone else in a car is appreciating the full and rich humanity of every other human being on the road. But I am saying that I, personally, feel a lot more misanthropic (and keep in mind, I'm already pretty misanthropic) toward humanity after being in a car, and probably less inclined to support social programs to benefit those ants who dare to suck my mighty fumes.

I also feel less creative after I've taken a long drive or car ride. I'm one of those writers who needs to work over an idea ad infinitum in my head before I feel comfortable enough to write it for real. (Note: don't be this kind of writer if you can possibly avoid it! I'd be so, so much more prolific both blog-wise and fiction-wise if I could "write by the seat of my pants." Alas, I am and will always be a follower of the 99% inspiration, 1% perspiration philosophy.) And the one thing that makes me get into the groove of writing, aside from smoking which I no longer do, is physical activity. Either walking or cycling works, but cycling has the added benefit of getting me to my destination faster, and varying the sights I see along my journeys, which aids in my ability to put together my plots and rework my sentences over and over (and over (and over)) again. I don't know exactly why exercise works this way for me, but it does, and driving for me is like an anti-exercise, making me less able to think and write than I would have been if I'd just stayed home.

I thought these "quirks" were limited to me, a by-product of being an old (in relativistic terms) practically-non-driver who hates cars, and also of being a hot-tempered rage-face in general. Yet, I've been driven in cars with people who are normally very sweet-tempered and not normally prone to rages who get absolutely apoplectic when things slow down or pedestrians step in front of them or they are stuck behind a bike. I won't name names but think about who I ride with most often, heh. I don't think it's that far-fetched to speculate that the car has something to do with this Jekyll and Hyde transformation. And I also don't think the liberal vs. conservative/collectivist vs. individualist dichotomy is that far-fetched either. Perhaps someone in the liberal media should conduct a survey seeing if long car commutes correlate with conservatism on the political spectrum.

Monbiot is also a pro-nuclear environmentalist, so clearly this is a man after my own heart!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Going to Centralia

Last weekend, just because we could, Rob and I took a weekend vacation to East-Central PA. The highlight of the vacation wasn’t the tiny alternative comic-con we went to on Sunday but, instead, a trip to Centralia.

Because not everyone knows the story: up until 1964, Centralia was a hamlet in the heart of anthracite coal country. Somehow or other, the coal underneath the town caught fire, and the town had to be evacuated and the residents paid off, except for the dozen or so stragglers who stayed behind, because one’s town being on fire is merely a small, temporary imperfection along the lines of having to deal with a drum-playing neighbor and isn’t the kind of thing you should, like, run away from as fast as you can. It’s the inspiration behind the movie and video game “Silent Hill,” which I’ve never seen or played, and also the Simpsons episode where they have to move Springfield because it’s taken over by a landfill. (Ix-nay on the asshole-tray!) In addition to rousting out the last Centralians, PA also knocked down the last houses, which is kind of a shame because you don’t really get the same ghost-town effect when it’s just a collection of broken foundations. There’s enough coal under Centralia to keep the fire going for another two hundred years, and it’s likely to swallow up a few other towns as it burns. So, now you know.

The first thing you run into when you finally find Centralia (this is a challenge!) is the interstate, closed due to damage, which you can walk on:

This stretch of interstate goes on for around a mile, and is covered with graffiti, which ran the gamut from the bigoted:

To the scatological:

To the inspiring:

To the nerdy:

There are also three well-kept cemeteries, including this small Orthodox one:

And then the town site itself, which doesn’t look like much anymore since they tore down the houses and uprooted the street signs. But the town is where you get the best view of the fire, as you can (kind of) see here:

There’s also an area where you can literally put your hand into the rocks and feel the fire, which is cool as hell, and also illustrates the utter insanity of anyone who chose to remain here. If I’d had my hand in the rocks more than half a minute, I would have gotten burnt. I bet I could have fried an egg in this little rock niche:

Gotta say, PA’s tourism board is really missing the boat here, though. Where are the tourist shops with T-shirts saying “My Town Burned Up and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt”? Rob says it’s because “nobody wants to remember Centralia,” but the next day we went to the town of Jim Thorpe, which capitalizes on the execution of the Molly Maguires, which you wouldn’t think we’d want to remember either. Nobody even died in Centralia! I mean, it’s certainly not a pleasant history lesson, but it’s interesting, and we ran into a dozen other people while we were there (including two guys who drove Jeeps onto the broken interstate!), so clearly there’s a market for tours, knickknacks, and other things to drain rubberneckers’ pockets. I have ideas, PA! Call me!

Centralia's past vs. Centralia's future.
Ultimately, I came away from this trip struck by how many differences there are between Western and Eastern PA. We’re bituminous, they’re anthracite. We put French fries on our sandwiches, they have a lot of Amish people. Like two different planets, really. I was also struck by just how empty a lot of the eastern part of the state is. Except for Pittsburgh, Western PA is pretty rural, but not to this extent. There was just a lot of nothing from Centralia all the way down to Philadelphia, which became very concerning when it came time to find a motel. So, go to Centralia, but get a reservation first! This message brought to you by the Centralia Tourism Board.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Breakfast at Twilight #4 Is Out and Buried Under a Cat

I've been living in Baltimore for a week now and it's pretty awesome! The neighbors are friendlier, the sights are interesting, and the bike lanes and public transportation are existent. And while I will put up a big-ass update post with pictures and such soon, I still can't find my camera in the moving boxes and bags and I sort of hate pulling pictures from my phone. Also, I've been spending too much time on the Internet, as evidenced by the fact that I haven't even finished a book this month. (The book I am reading, The Godwhale by doctor-turned-SF author-turned-doctor T.J. Bass, is awfully written but awesomely idea-ed. It's the sequel to a book that's even worse and I don't really know why I'm continuing to read it except that it's a fairly unique dystopia and I love me some dystopia fiction. Maybe I'll put up a post about it at some point. But basically if you enjoy 1970s-era environmental dystopia and don't mind reading sentences like "now the more purposeful cutaneous capillaries puckered to conserve heat," these are the books for you!)

A zine so awesome, it killed a cat.

But! This post is actually an official announcement of my new zine, Breakfast at Twilight #4: The Bike Issue. My new zine touches on such hard-hitting topics as:

  • My history with driving, and also cycling
  • Confrontations with drivers
  • How to bike in suburbia without getting murdered
  • Beginners' Gear 101
  • My beef with athletic cycling
  • A very short urban planning history
And more! Okay, no, that's pretty much it. It's forty pages, quarter sized, and pretty text-packed except for some hand-drawn illustrations. If you want it, copies are $1.50 and you can Paypal me at blacklightdiner at gmail dot com. Outside the US, please add a little for shipping. Distros who want a copy, get in contact, and it will be available at my own distro (for the next month or so that it's open online) once I hook up the scanner. But what I really want is trades! My zine reading has really slacked and I don't know why, except that I haven't gotten very many new zines in the mail lately. So if you're someone I've traded with before, or even someone I haven't, email me. It will be awesome.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hampden, hon!

Over the weekend, I moved to Baltimore. The general sequence of events:

Saturday, 9:00 AM: Pick up truck. Find out Rob is awesome at driving truck as long as I don't talk too much about the questionable racial politics implied in The Jetsons. Talk about it anyway because that's what I do.
Saturday, 10:00 AM: My parents and sister arrive from Uniontown, PA. My dad immediately made himself useful by managing to Tetris almost all of our belongings into a 16' Budget moving truck. Considering that we couldn't even manage to get everything into a 24' truck when we moved to Towson from Pittsburgh, that represents both an incredible downsizing of stuff on both our parts as well as some first-rate packing on my dad's part.
Saturday, 1:00 PM: Break for lunch. I ribbed my parents for a while about having to drive less than a mile to the nearest restaurant, but these are the ideological sacrifices that you make for people who are helping you out. Although I still maintain I could have biked there faster.
Saturday, 3:00 PM: Commence unpacking. Find that almost everything fits, and that unpacking is way easier when you don't have to move heavy oak pieces up and down narrow row-house stairs. Come to the conclusion with your significant other that stairs, while a useful invention of mankind, are best avoided in any apartments we may rent in the future.
Saturday, 8:00 PM: Break for dinner. Retrieve cats from old house. Are slightly amused that the cat that reacted the worst to moving last time (her behavior earned her the title "Queen of the Rafters") is apparently unfazed, and that old cranky cat is reacting the worst. He's still hissing and swiping at legs. Make a crack about how this will be the last place he ever lives and feel bad about it because that means he might die here and that's morbid, but REALLY, it's just that we hope to be here at least five or six years and he's already ten and cats don't live THAT long. Except for this cat. If Oxford turns out to be the feline Jeanne Calment he's gonna have to suck it up.
Sunday: Let's just not talk about Sunday, okay?

The apartment looks like this, except that there's all kinds of stuff in it now which makes it look like a hoarder house but we're totally not hoarders. Except of LOVE. And canned goods.

The many colors of our new apartment. Just add boxes.

So far Hampden is pretty awesome although we haven't really done anything here yet because we had to go back out to the suburbs for irony and necessary house supplies. I also haven't been able to do any exploring on my bike but SOON, hon, soon. Thanks to Rob (who will read this post) for agreeing to the move and being awesome at driving the truck, and my parents and sister (who probably won't), for being a major help! Even if they do hate to walk.

Also, I have a new zine! Well, I have a new zine PRINTED but not yet collated because of the move, and I don't know when it will be collated. By next week, definitely! It's all about bikes, suburbia, how to start cycling for transportation, fucking drivers, pet peeves, and more. Okay, not really that much more. It's forty pages, which is the longest zine I've ever written and it's even longer than that because for the first time I wrote it on a computer, not a typewriter, which means the words are smaller and closer together. Figures that when I decide to write a 24-hour zine, it actually turns into a week-long project.

In lieu of cover image, please accept this similar concept.

If you want one, it's $1.50 Paypalled to blacklightdiner at gmail dot com, or a trade. Trades are awesome! I haven't been reading very many zines lately besides the ones submitted to me for distro consideration. You can email for my address. That needs to change.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tax Cars, Subsidize Bikes

Some "foodie" named Mark Bittman wrote an article in the New York Times calling for the government (because we all know they don't have enough to do lately!) to levy sin taxes on pop and processed foods, the building blocks of the Standard American Diet. The way we eat makes him SAD. He proposes using this tax money to found a program to make healthy food more widely available and teach people how to cook it. Which is nice in theory, except that these things never work out as intended and that revenue will go where it always does, a tax cut for the top 10% of Americans.

The comparison to anti-tobacco programs is a shaky one at best. The link between smoking and cancer is direct; the link between obesity and diet, not so much. (Otherwise, I'd weigh four hundred pounds! Seriously, my diet sucks and I should probably do something about it eventually.) The link between obesity and ill health, again, there's a link but it's not a direct one in the way that smoking and cancer are directly linked. And fast food is still food, which is something you need to keep living. It's definitely not the best food, but nothing pisses me off quite as much as food fascists who smugly declare that Taco Bell isn't food.

But you know what's a better analogy? Driving. Just like eating, transportation is a necessity. And just like the government has subsidized corn and soybean manufacturers for more and for longer than we ever should have, it has also subsidized and bailed out oil companies and car makers. We've bent our infrastructure around the almighty car, just as much as we've bent our diet around what's cheapest and easiest. Just like some people in the inner city live in food deserts, people in Houston or South Podunk live in transportation deserts, wherein car-less transportation is only theoretically possible, forcing people to chain themselves to expensive, dangerous steel cages whether they want to or not. Even exercising can be impossible in those kind of places if you don't have access to a car. I grew up in a suburb/small town where there weren't even any sidewalks to walk or jog on, and where if you wanted to do some hardcore exercising, you had to join a gym, which required the cage! That's some vicious circle, dude, and it's no wonder that lots of people just stay home. They've spent too much time in the cage that day already.

And that's not even getting into the health effects of driving! Did you know that sitting will kill you? How about commuting? It seems to me that the car is at least as bad for you as fast food, and possibly worse. So why single out food?

In Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization (which is awesome, by the way), Jeff Rubin talks extensively about the gross, egregious subsidies that our government uses to keep the price of oil lower than it has any right to be. He also talks about the sky-high subsidies that developing nations like India and China are giving their drivers as a way to usher them into modernity, even as the modern world is realizing that car culture is not long-term sustainable.

I picture a world in which Americans (and Canadians and Australians and Indians and the Chinese) are forced to pay the real cost for their oil, a cost which includes carbon offsets because that's an integral part of oil use. A world where "fitness" is not something you do after work or on your lunch break, because everything you do requires physical effort, whether you're walking to the store or biking to work. And although I'm not any kind of expert, I sorta think that emphasizing physical activity and making our communities a good place to walk and bike would do a hell of a lot more good for our collective physical and mental health than slapping French fries out of someone's hand, saying "no!," and telling them what they should be eating instead. (Fun fact: Poor people already know this. They are not dumb.)

And guess what? A society where people don't drive as much, and don't import as much food as they used to due to carbon taxes being taken seriously, is by necessity a locavore society except for the upper 10% of income earners who can afford to buy fancy imported Big Macs and Kobe beef. My dream of high carbon/oil taxes isn't too dissimilar from Bittman's dream of taxing "bad" foods, except that I'm cutting to the source of the problem, not the effect.

So, don't look down on me for eating poorly, and attempt to change my behavior, not unless you're prepared to turn the camera right back on yourself and admit that you, too, benefit from Standard American Transportation (SAT... this is also an apt acronym!). Fast food, and the people who enjoy it or who see it as a necessary evil due to living in food deserts, is an easy target. But make no mistake: what got us to this point is globalization and the deceptively cheap oil that makes it possible. Sin taxing fast food is a surface-level "fix" that allows foodies to sneer at fatties without doing anything to solve structural problems. Let he who is without sin cast the first, uh, tax.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Cat Days of Summer

Bikey news: One of the bike blogs I read, Let's Go Ride a Bike, is sponsoring a Summer Games for those of us non-athletic-type riders who nevertheless enjoy a bit of friendly competition. The challenges, intended to push one out of their transportation cycling comfort zone. Some examples of activities you too can participate in: ride on a bike path you've never been on before, ride somewhere new in your city, commute to work if you don't already, go on a group ride. As I'm moving into an essentially new-to-me area in six days (!), and plan to explore the hell out of things during the first week of August, I figure I'll have this one in the bag!

Not that I've been doing a lot of riding lately. Today's temperature clocked in at 102 degrees, and I don't know what a heat index is but it can't be helping anything. I am, in general, a huge fan of hot temperature; my ideal temp is around eighty degrees, with just a slight breeze. But this triple-digit crap that's been going on for the entire past week is a different animal. It's not as bad as winter because nothing is as bad as winter. Yet it's still weather that keeps me indoors when I'd prefer not to be, which is crazy-making even without all the white shit on the ground. But it's supposed to be down into the nineties next week in Maryland, which will be a relative relief.

Non-bikey news: As previously alluded, Rob and I are moving from the suburban college town of Towson to the neighborhood of Hampden in Baltimore, to a lovely first-floor apartment with multicolored walls and a tree in the backyard, and from which I will have non-trivial access to public transportation, independent non-chain businesses, and other things that make life worth living. But before the moving comes the packing, and wow, I really hope we stay at this new apartment for years and years because the process of packing to move is one of the most miserable things of all time.

We have a lot of books. I mean, a LOT of books. Lots and lots of books. So far, we're up to a mighty thirty-four boxes and while mostly done there are a few stragglers which I'll just throw into crates or something because we're out of damn moving boxes. I'm pretty sure that if I piled all the moving boxes on top of one another and jumped off the pile that would be a stupid idea. In addition, there's the furniture and clothing and such to deal with, but those aren't beyond what most "normal people" have in their houses. And no, an e-reader wouldn't really help matters, since 80% of the books are comics. At least the situation is improved from the last move, though, when we had probably over fifty moving boxes for books alone and also a dozen long boxes of single-issue comics. The latter is gone almost completely, and there's a significant dent in the former. We're also both becoming a lot pickier about what we bring into the house, too, which is going to cut down on the accumulation while we continue to chip away at what's already there.

Just in case there's anyone who reads this blog and also orders from Black Light Diner Distro, I'll be boxing up zines (both my personal collection and distro zines) around mid-week, and unboxing whenever I get around to it, so if you want to order anything (and help me lighten my load) then do it now, now, now! Also in zine news, I'm seriously thinking about doing a 24-hour zine for International Zine Month, since I've never done one, aside from a comic flipbook in 2008 that I promptly put out of print because I didn't like it. I have so much packing/moving-related stuff to do, though. It will probably come down to whether I feel like I can justify squandering a few hours to work on a zine. But as I've already spent most of this afternoon sitting in a blissfully air-conditioned Panera doing nothing... maybe my time isn't as precious as I think it is.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Like, seriously, fuck car culture. Right in its EAR.

I swear I'll get back to funny/light posts that aren't about transportation issues eventually but this is too important a news story to not comment on. Raquel Nelson, an Atlanta woman whose child was killed by a drunk driver while she was crossing the highway in front of her apartment building, is now being charged with vehicular homicide for her son's death. Nope, not the driver who actually killed him. The woman who lost her child due to the combination of a selfish asshole driver and piss-poor urban planning is being charged with murder. Welcome to another battle in the war between pedestrians/cyclists and drivers.

Of course, comments are making much to-do over the fact that she crossed illegally. This is true, she did. But why should a mother with three young children be forced to walk almost a mile round-trip to get to the crosswalk? Why are crosswalks so scarce in this part of Atlanta? Why did the bus let her off in an area without a crosswalk? The story says that other bus passengers also illegally crossed there, and if I'd have to guess based on the aerial picture on that link I'd say that it's a pretty popular spot for illegal crossings. There appears to be a large housing complex on the opposite side of the street from the bus stop, a wide median strip, and no obstructions to prevent walkers from seeing cars speeding toward them. And there also doesn't appear to be a sidewalk on that road, meaning that walkers who do choose to travel along the shoulder to the crosswalk would still be in danger from cars drifting onto the edges of the road, plus the exhaust and harassment and possible disease-ridden debris normally found on shoulders. I've seen dead rats and broken beer bottles alongside highways, been panhandled, had things shouted at me. I don't blame her for taking a chance crossing that highway instead of mucking around on a shoulder for an additional half hour with three young kids, who tend to be inquisitive and put things in their mouths and such.

Naturally, race and gender have a lot to do with this, too. Would Nelson have been charged with killing her child if she was a white man? Well, maybe not, but maybe so. It's no secret that non-drivers are marginalized almost everywhere in the United States; a greater percentage of non-drivers are POC/poor/disabled which skews things, but even a person privileged in almost every other category becomes suspect when they choose not (or are forced not) to travel in a two-ton death machine, when they live in a walker/biker/human-unfriendly place. And in another news story, which did not mention Nelson's race, a commenter came right out and said a woman with children who doesn't own a car is a child abuser. Awesomesauce, right? To top it off, Nelson's jury wasn't comprised of her peers, not just because all six (and since when does a jury only have six people on it?) jurors were middle-class whites, but because they were all drivers. God forbid, if I am ever in a serious accident, I for damn sure don't want people who have never walked or cycled anywhere to be on my jury, no matter their race or class. (Actually, I don't want people who have never walked, cycled, or taken public transportation in their lives to even exist but we're talking about possible hypotheticals here.)

Being a pedestrian in a walker-unfriendly city is not a crime. Raquel Nelson is guilty of crossing a road illegally, but nothing else. The drunk driver who killed her kid bears the greatest responsibility (natch), but so does the city of Atlanta for allowing this situation to happen via some seriously shit-ass urban planning and bus routing. I think it's about time for people who take "alternative" transportation to start organizing around these issues, and for cyclists to care more about pedestrian issues, and vice versa. Walkers, cyclists, bus-riders... we all have more in common than we think we do, and the Nelson case sets a dangerous precedent for all parents who can't or don't have a car to be charged with murder (like, really, my mind's still trying to wrap around that one) for just attempting to get their kids safely home.

Soapbox dismounted!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Why I Am Not An Athlete

I recently picked up a book that I bought many moons ago at a closing Borders entitled The Non-Cyclist's Guide to the Century and Other Road Races by Dawn Dais. In retrospect, I should have known that it wasn't going to be a book written for me due to the presence of the word "race" in the title, but the cover had a cute ladies' bike and it was only like eight bucks, so why not. In the process of flipping through it to discover whether I was going to read it cover to cover, it brought up a lot of feelings I have regarding cycling for sport; namely, why I don't do it.

I have nothing against people treating cycling as a sport per se. And in some respects, I treat it as one too: probably around half of my riding isn't strictly necessary, i.e. not a grocery run or a doctor's appointment or meetings with friends. Sometimes I travel to a further place instead of a closer one, sometimes I go out without any destination in mind at all. And yes, cycling is great exercise: pound for pound it's not as effective as running or swimming, but in my opinion it's way more fun than either of those things. Also, I have this weird mental block surrounding exercise where I don't want to do something unless it's in some way "practical," even if this practicality is a stretch. I can't exactly run to work or to a fancy dinner party, can I? I can't swim to Target! Yet I will happily bike six miles to a distant coffee shop instead of walking less than a mile to the closest one, because that's "practical." I am probably insane.

So, anyway, problems with athletic cycling--GO! First, there is the equipment. Some of the things Dais recommends as a "probably should have" are: cycling shorts (which can easily cost over $75 for one pair), special shoes, special gloves, and a whole lot of other stuff that seems to be obscenely overpriced. And, of course, a racing bike, some of which can easily cost a grand and up. Talk about your barriers to entry! Then there are the century races themselves, which usually cost money to enter, and are often held (at least, most races here in MD... not that I'm ready for a century but I've looked for others) at places I can't bike to, which is a no-go for me due to the irrational hang-up discussed in the last paragraph.

Another beef I have is that many (again I'm generalizing based on what I've read online and seen in person) athletes are terrified of riding with traffic. Simply terrified! And while I don't want to discount someone's fears, because lord knows I have my own, this is an attitude that I don't understand, especially when the athlete is also a driver. It's the same road, the same rules, except you're going much, much faster. If anything, driving should be the terrifying activity, and that's certainly how it feels for me. But take someone out of their giant tank, and they turn into a wuss. Just like a gun owner, the "weekend warrior" feels helpless without their weapon. And as someone who is endangered (both as a pedestrian and a cyclist) by cars, it is hard not to feel perturbed by this "roads are dangerous!" nonsense. Yes, they're dangerous--because of you!

Probably my main objection to sport cycling, though, is because these athletes by and large aren't doing anything to increase the accessibility of roads for those of us who use our bikes for transportation as well as to "feel the burn." In fact, some of them lobby against riding for transportation. How many times have you been flipped off or called a jackass by someone with bikes (usually much fancier and more expensive than your own bike) strapped to the back of their SUV? When I think "athlete cyclist," I think of folks like that, folks that will drive five miles to get to a nice safe path and think transportation riders are losers. This is probably definitely not a fair assumption to make, but it's the one I make.

In the end, I guess it's dumb to have an anti-sport cycling bias, as dumb as a driver in a Ford Focus hating someone in a Formula One racer for not caring about their needs. We are doing completely different things, the athletes and myself. But biking is marginalized in a way that driving will never be in America, so it's hard to not see athletic cyclists who drive short distances as part of the problem. Truthfully, I get angrier at them than at your average driver, because they have both the physical strength and the equipment to ride a bike for transportation and they... don't. So close, and yet so far.